There is nothing better than a fresh, sweet, juicy peach. In fact, I enjoyed one while writing this commentary.

It was a supermarket peach, bought at the local Save Mart.

In the past in this space I have complained about supermarket peaches being better suited for batting practice than eating. I heralded the roadside fruit stands as having much more edible fruit.

California peach growers share my frustration and called me on the carpet for past comments about poor quality fruit. They said they were doing the best they could to give consumers quality peaches. They cited handling and shipping after the sale as part of the problem. I am sure that had something do to with unpleasant peaches in the past.

This year it is all kudos for California peach growers; colorful, ripe and sweet peaches are all I have experienced. With the exception of one bunch I bought at a local roadside stand, all came from local supermarkets.

Varieties are getting better. Handling has no doubt improved. They still need to sit a couple of days (preferably in a paper bag) at room temperature to fully ripen before eating, but it has been worth the wait this year. They have been firm, but very tasty. The cool spring may have delayed harvest. However, it enhanced size from what I saw. Color has also been very nice.

Unfortunately, California peach growers did not fare well in the marketplace, according to Barry Bedwell, president of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League in Fresno.

The South and Southeast peach crops came in on time, and California was late, said Bedwell. “This created stiff competition, and prices were not good for California peaches, although the quality was there.”

However, nectarine and plum markets were “generally okay,” Bedwell said. Most peach growers produce all three.

Table grapes are also late. This has enhanced quality and prices are reportedly good right now.

However, this has been a two-edged sword because table grape growers are now netting vineyards to protect the grapes for a late harvest. Bedwell said he expects the table grape harvest to continue well into December. It’s normally over by Thanksgiving.

“We have been fighting the tariff issue with Mexico and the European grapevine moth quarantine in Fresno County and those have not helped growers and shippers this season. Fortunately, there is an alternative to methyl bromide for grapes coming out of the quarantine areas and that dodged a bullet,” said Bedwell.

The Mexico table grape tariff issue is retaliation for the Obama administration reversing the previous administration’s decision to let Mexican trucks operate on U.S. highways. Teamsters won that war at the expense of California table grape growers.

The melon fruit fly that showed up in Kern County recently is also not good news. “That is a whammy for those guys in the southern San Joaquin they do not need. Grapes are not a host, but tree fruit is.”

Overall, he said California grape and tree fruit growers have had worse years and “certainly better years.”

“Most grower/shippers will be around for 2011. It has not been like 2008,” when many of the more prominent names in the industry went out of business.

“We desperately need the public to understand the importance of protecting our domestic food supply,” Bedwell said.

hcline@farmpress.com